Insect species named after Star Wars characters

Bonnie Burton of Lucasfilm says,
Ever wonder what it would be like to see Yoda fly by your head or hear Chewbacca buzz instead of roar? Now you can find out thanks to entomologists Arnold Menke and David Vincent. These bug experts named new wasp species discovered in 1983 after their favorite Star Wars characters: Polemistus chewbacca, Polemistus vaderi, and Polemistus yoda.

iPod tube amp


The Fatman iTube Valve Dock and Amp for your iPod is sure sharp looking and probably sounds great, but it ain't cheap at £299.00. I bought a beautiful, working vintage 1960s McIntosh MC-240 tube amp off eBay for roughly the same price. Link (via Gizmodo)

Video: "Condom-on" gag commercial for potentially real gadget

This video commercial for a zany prophylactic-applicator gadget called Condom-on sure smells like spoof spirit:
Using technology developed by NASA for the Mars Lander, the Condom-On has been aerodynamically optimized in wind tunnels to prevent air drag and ensure that your condom arrives at its destination ASAP.
But Joshua Davis, who created it, says "I actually think this could be a viable product but I don't have any background in manufacturing so I decided to just shoot the commercial and put the site up."

Let's hope he's less serious about the "i-Cut home circumcision device" he's also hawking.

Bonus: we're not naming names, but viewers may recognize a certain golden-voiced jazz moonlighter and Wired Magazine senior editor in the ad.

Link to website, direct link to video.

Reader comment: Jesse Hattabaugh says,

I actually would find one of these really useful, but only if it had a pez-dispenser-like magazine for wrapped condoms and could somehow open the wrappers and load the barrel with a quick action. The key to condoms is making them as unobtrusive as possible. I give him kudos!

Read the rest

Mark Pilgrim's list of Ubuntu essentials for ex-Mac users

Mac guru and software developer Mark Pilgrim recently switched to Ubuntu Linux after becoming fed up with proprietary Mac file-formats and the increasing use of DRM technologies in the MacOS. I've been a Mac user since 1984, and have a Mac tattooed on my right bicep. I've probably personally owned 50 Macs, and I've purchased several hundred while working as an IT manager over the years. I'm about to make the same switch, for much the same reasons.

I thought about buying a MacBook Pro anyway, since they're nice computers, and they run Ubuntu, but after pricing them out, I realized that I could get a lot more bang for my buck with a Lenovo ThinkPad T60p. If I'm not going to run the MacOS, why spend extra money for Apple hardware? I ordered the machine last weekend, loading it to the max with two 120GB hard drives, 2GB of RAM, and the fastest video card and best screen Lenovo sells: it was still cheaper than a Mac, even though Lenovo makes me pay for a copy of Windows XP that I plan on pitching out along with the styrofoam cutouts and other worthless packaging.

Once I'm settled in in LA, I'm planning on getting Ubuntu running on the machine and exporting all the data from my Mac to the new box. I'm also going to get Ubuntu running on my spare PowerBook. I get computers in pairs, and use one while the other is -- inevitably -- in the shop; the other Powerbook will remain my spare machine.

I'm planning on documenting every step of my switch here, and for starters I thought I'd link n to Mark's list of Ubuntu essentials, a kind of guide for Mac power-users who switch to Linux. I'm looking forward to applying some of the excellent advice here. Link (via Hawk Wings)

Vernor Vinge on computers, freedom and privacy

Wendy Grossman reports in the Guardian from the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference, describing Vernor Vinge's presentation of his incredible new novel Rainbows End and its relation to Orwellian notions of control. Rainbows End is probably the most mind-blowing work of science fiction I've read all year: it manages to touch on the future of fandom, consensus reality, copyright, DRM, scholarship, aging, generation gaps, and global politics, while telling a technothriller adventure story that I couldn't help but devour. In fact, the excellent plot pissed me off, because it kept me turning the pages so fast I could barely pause to appreciate the wild ideas in Vinge's worldbuilding.
The scenario he describes is the background he researched for Rainbows End. Set in 2025, the characters are surrounded by logical extensions of today's developing technology. Wearable computing is commonplace. Tagging and ubiquitous networked sensors mean you can look at the landscape with your choice of overlay and detail. People send each other silent messages and Google for information within conversations with participants who may be physically present or might be remote projections. One character's projection is hijacked and becomes the front for three people. The owner of another remote intelligence is unknown. Several continents' top intelligence operatives try to solve a smart biological attack that infects a test population with the willingness to obey orders.

Vinge makes two opening assumptions: no grand physical disaster occurs, and today's computing and communications trends continue.

He added a third trend: "The great conspiracy against human freedom." As novelist Doris Lessing has observed, barons on opposite sides of the river don't need to be in cahoots if their interests coincide. In our case, defence, homeland security, financial crime enforcement, police, tax collectors and intellectual property rights holders offer reasons to want to control the hardware we use. Then there are geeks, who can be tempted to forget the consequences if the technology is cool enough. Vinge quotes the most famous line from the comic strip Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Vinge's technology to satisfy these groups' dreams is the Secure Hardware Environment (She), which dedicates some bandwidth and a small portion of every semiconductor for regulatory use. Deployment is progressive, as standards are implemented. Built into new chips, She will spread inevitably through its predecessors' obsolescence.

Link (Thanks, Mark!)

Update: Jay sez, "Bazooka Joe at the smallWORLD podcast conducted an excellent interview with Vernor Vinge in which the author diplayed his dexterity of thought. He seems to make all the important connections."

Update: Jay sez, "Bazooka Joe at the smallWORLD podcast conducted an excellent interview with Vernor Vinge in which the author diplayed his dexterity of thought. He seems to make all the important connections."

Jim Baen, sf publisher, has passed away

Jim Baen, publisher of the extraordinary science fiction line Baen Books, has passed away. I loved Baen for his radically sensible approach to electronic publishing: give away electronic editions of books and people will treat them as advertisements to buy more print books.

Jim had a stroke two weeks ago, one that was characterized as "serious." At the time, the people he worked with explained that there were "very detailed emergency plans" left in place by Jim.

Here's author David Drake's obit for Jim.

James Patrick Baen was born October 22, 1943, on the Pennsylvania-New York border, a long way by road or in culture from New York City. He was introduced to SF early through the magazines in a step-uncle's attic, including the November, 1957, issue of Astounding with The Gentle Earth by Christopher Anvil.

The two books Jim most remembered as being formative influences were Fire-Hunter by Jim Kjelgaard and Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C Clarke. The theme of both short novels is that a youth from a decaying culture escapes the trap of accepted wisdom and saves his people despite themselves. This is a fair description of Jim's life in SF: he was always his own man, always a maverick, and very often brilliantly successful because he didn't listen to what other people thought.

For example, the traditional model of electronic publishing required that the works be encrypted. Jim thought that just made it hard for people to read books, the worst mistake a publisher could make. His e-texts were clear and in a variety of common formats.

Link (Thanks, David!)

Ad from 1936: Make and sell your own Buck Rogers figs

I love this 1936 ad for a make-your-own-Buck-Rogers-figurines kit. The company encourages you to take the kit, make 200 figs per hour, and turn then sell them. Try to imagine a company today with that business model: "Make your own Disney figurines and sell them for real money!"
Get this great outfit! Make toy castings of Buck with his marvelous Disintegrator Pistol . . . Wilma Deering, his faithful Lieutenant . . . and Killer Kane, the arch-criminal of the 25th Century. Paint your castings in bright, lifelike colors. Make all the toys you want. Sell them at a big profit! Millions of people are interested in Buck’s adventures . . . and follow them daily in newspapers and radio. Start your own toy business with this complete outfit. Make real money.
Link (via Make Blog)

Real world Banana Jr 6000 computer from Bloom County

Fritzgutten, a Flickr user, has built this amazing Ubuntu-powered file-server in tribute to the old Bloom County comic strip. The strip featured an occassional appearance by a wise-cracking, waddling Mac-like computer called the Banana Jr 6000; by hacking up and painting a Mac he appears to have faithfully brought it to life. Link (via Make Blog)

Bicycle-powered blenders

Fueled by the discovery that a Starbucks in Washington has "a bicycle powered blender and the customers make their own drinks," Make Blog's Phil Torrone went bike-blender crazy, pulling together a great post on making and buying bike-powered blenders. Link (Thumbnail from photo at Byerley Bicycle Blender)

HOWTO take pix of fireworks

Here's a great step-by-step guide to taking pictures of fireworks, something I've tried to do quite a lot, without any notable success. This'll be handy come Canada Day weekend or July 4.
Focal Length? - One of the hardest parts of photographing fireworks is having your camera trained on the right part of the sky at the right time. This is especially difficult if you’re shooting with a longer focal length and are trying to take more tightly cropped shots. I generally shoot at a wider focal length than a tight one but during a show will try a few tighter shots (I usually use a zoom lens to give me this option) to see if I can get lucky with them. Keep in mind that cropping of your wider shots can always be done later.

Aperture - A common question around photographing fireworks is what aperture to use. Many people think you need a fast lens to get them but in reality it’s quite the opposite as the light that the fireworks emit is quite bright. I find that apertures in the mid to small range tend to work reasonably well and would usually shoot somewhere between f/8 to f/16.

Link (via Make Blog) (Thumbnail from photo credited to Mr Magoo ICU)

Update: Kevin sez, "If you're looking to take more unconventional photos of fireworks, there are a lot of things you can do that will result in amazing effects beyond what a live audience can appreciate. Intentionally bluring your photos, taking zoomed photos, long exposures where you intentionally pan, track, zoom, change the focus, or some combination of the above can result in startling effects. My partner Rachel and I have been experimenting with this for a few years. You can see one of her albums here and one of mine from the same event here."

P2P insurer will pay your fines if RIAA sues: $19/year!

David sez, "Apparently, a company in Sweden is offering file-sharing insurance - they'll pay your fines if you're sued by the RIAA. The /. submitter translates the link as follows: 'For a mere 140 SEK ($19 USD) per year, they will pay all your fines and give you a t-shirt if you get convicted for file sharing.'"

I have no idea if these insurers can be trusted with $19/year, but it actually sounds like a pretty plausible business model. If you count up all the file-sharers on the net, and divide it by the all the fines and settlements ever paid to the RIAA, my guess is that it's way less than $19/year, which suggests that you could make a buck (or Kronor) at this. Link (Thanks, David!)

Update: Travis sez, "This article estimates the odds of being sued by the RIAA at 1:1840. This works out to a break-even point of $34960 per lawsuit."

Exhaustive primer on making machinima movies

Hugh "Nomad" Hancock, creator of the feature-length machinima film Bloodspell has just posted the first half of a long blow-by-blow primer on making machinima movies. Machinima movies are films that are animated by walking video-game characters through the action, then adding voice-over, effectively using game-engines as cheap-and-cheerful animation programs.
We started creating art assets about January 2004, and we began filming our animatic from those assets in December 2005. We weren't working full-time at that point; however, out of those 12 months, we probably put in the equivalent of six months full-time BloodSpell development.

We created sets using the Aurora editor, which is by far the fastest and easiest way that I've ever been able to put together sets for a film (and I've been making Machinima for nearly a decade, starting in 1997). I can't overstate the practical impact of a tile-based system, which meant that our set editors didn't have to be trained 3D modellers to produce spectacular-looking sets quickly and easily. Instead, the process most resembled a cross between conventional set creation and interior decorating. At one point, working on Arianne's Apartment, we were horrified to hear ourselves saying things like, "Yes, but I'm just not feeling the utility of the space. It's too cold." The male members of the crew had to have a quick conversation about deathmatch and graphics cards to reassure themselves of their masculinity.

Link (Thanks, Hugh!)

Coke machine manual

This purports to be the manual for a high-tech Coke machine, the kind with the scrolling LED tickers. I imagine that this is the kind of thing that you could have a lot of dorm/workplace fun with.

If configuration switch 4 is set to "C4 0", when the door is opened, "NONE" or a list of Error codes will show on the display. If configuration switch 4 is set to "C4 1", when the door is opened, "CASH - ####-##.##", "SALE - ####-####", "EROR", or "NONE" will show on the display. The service mode is entered when the door is open and the service switch on the controller is pressed.

The operator can now use the first four select switches to move through the main routine menu.

Select Button 1: Abort/Cancel - will return to previous menu prompt.
Select Button 2: Scroll Up - forward in menu.
Select Button 3: Scroll Down - backward in menu.
Select Button 4: Enter/Save/Clear - Allows you to enter a specific routine, save what you have programmed, or clear the error prompts.

Note: Routines with * are password protected. They can only be viewed and entered after the password is entered at the "PASS" prompt.

80K PDF Link, Coral Cache mirror (via Digg)

Punch card curtains

Jeffrey Garman made an ingenious set of window shades from old computer punch cards, a needle, and some thread. From his build notes on Flickr:
 52 172422910 80C947F1D8 We have where I work boxes upon boxes of these prehistoric paper punch-cards. I'm always looking for novel ideas to put them to good use again. Besides being good for blocking out the sun they also make good book marks and table leg stabilizer's... I think the cards I used were 'saved' Fortran programs.
Link (via MAKE: Blog)

Real-world search on GPS cellphones: "digital divining rods"

Snip from a NYT article by John Markoff and Martin Fackler about a new location-based search service for cellphone users in Japan:
If you stand on a street corner in Tokyo today you can point a specialized cellphone at a hotel, a restaurant or a historical monument, and with the press of a button the phone will display information from the Internet describing the object you are looking at. The new service is made possible by the efforts of three Japanese companies and GeoVector, a small American technology firm, and it represents a missing link between cyberspace and the physical world.

The phones combine satellite-based navigation, precise to within 30 feet or less, with an electronic compass to provide a new dimension of orientation. Connect the device to the Internet and it is possible to overlay the point-and-click simplicity of a computer screen on top of the real world.

The technology is being seen first in Japan because emergency regulations there require cellphones by next year to have receivers using the satellite-based Global Positioning System to establish their location.

Link to article. image: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times.